Hands-On With Zoom, Fisheye, Wide And Macro Lenses For iPhone and iPad [Reviews]


Fisheye and telephoto, the two extremes
Fisheye and telephoto, the two extremes

One disadvantage of using an iPhone or iPad as a camera is that you’re stuck with a single, fixed focal-length lens. Optical zoom can work only so far before even Instagram photos start to look bad, and phones with built in optical zooms tend to resemble actual cameras.

The solution? Add-on lenses. Today, we’ll take a look at Photojojo’s four-in-one set of fisheye, macro, wide angle and telephoto lenses. These accessory lenses stick magnetically over the iDevice’s camera, changing the point of view.

The lenses are well made, and good looking enough for your beautiful iPhone

The kit consists of what looks like three lenses, but the wide angle screws apart to give access to the tiny macro lens. Each lens has a magnetic ring on its rear end, which marries up to a magnetic cap that has a cord attached. To use a lens, you need to remove this cap, remove the front lens cap and snap into onto a metal ring that sits around the camera’s lens-hole (a pack of self-adhesive rings comes with each lens). From there, you’re good to go.

The Good

The macro lens gets in real close. On the left is the strap of my calculator watch, on the right is the iPod Touch's retina display

One in place (and properly centered) these lenses work well. The build quality is good — I have dropped them several times onto hard floors and there is nary a ding in any of them — and the magnets themselves are very strong.

And they’re tiny. These things can go into a jacket pocket and stay unnoticed until you need them, or you could even dangle them from a keychain (or from the phone itself, if you can stand having things dangling from your phone).

Optically, the quality is fine, and having the ability to zoom in and out, as well as get great fisheye shots and macro photos, makes a huge difference to what you can do with the iPhone’s camera.

For me, the standout lenses are the macro (which lets you get to within a couple centimeters of your subject) and the fisheye, which is just so much fun. The other two are less spectacular, but can help you out of a spot if you find yourself to close or too far away from your subject, and no way of moving.

The Bad

On the left you see the wide angle lens. On the right, the iPad 3's camera goes commando

First up, these things are fiddly. I shot these photos of Barcelona’s premier tourist ghetto, the Sagrada Familia cathedral, using my iPad. I had to somehow hold onto the tablet, untangle the cords an magnets from each other, remove both caps and then line the lenses up on the mount. Then I had to find a clean pocket to keep these extras while I took the shots.

If you’re a fan of Lomography, or other Instagrammatical photo styles, you’ll love these lenses. The sharpness falls off at the edge, and if you move the lens off-center, you get some major blur and distortion. Vignetting isn’t a problem (except with the fisheye, obviously), but if you use a case and mount the lenses on the back of that, then you will see some darkened corners (on the iPad 3, at least — the iPad 2’s smaller lens is more immune to vignetting).

But the worst part of using these lenses is that they’re so fiddly. The tight-fitting lens caps keep out the dust, but they are also hard to pull off. And if left to jangle around inside a bag, the rear magnetic caps tend to all find their way onto the back of one lucky lens.

I’m thinking of making a metal strip which can clip to my bag and hold all the lenses in a row, and using this instead of the little caps, but as it, these things are best carried one at a time.

The Verdict

Fiddly but fun. You won’t get DSLR results with these lenses, but they will add a whole new dimension of experimentation to your iPhoneography. And you can play around to get some Lensbaby-like effects, too. Plus, at just $50 for four lenses (also available separately), it’s a pretty cheap thrill. Just be prepared to come up with a DIY storage solution, otherwise you’ll end up tearing your hair out, or just plain losing them.

[xrr rating=70%]